From the Director






by Rex Parker, Director

May 10 is the AAAP Annual Meeting.  Your attendance is requested at the May 10 meeting at Peyton Hall, Princeton campus.  Once again it’s time to elect officers for the coming year (one-year term).  A membership quorum is needed, so please participate in the vote.  See the candidate slate elsewhere in this month’s issue.

I’d like to thank the officers and chairs for outstanding contributions to the club over the past season.  We wouldn’t be the premier amateur astronomy organization in New Jersey without them and their efforts on behalf of AAAP.  Deep appreciation goes to the following members:

  • Ira Polans, Program Chair, and Prasad Ganti and John Miller, Program Committee members, for a year of interesting topics and outstanding speaker presentations.
  • Michael Mitrano, Treasurer, and observatory-engineer par excellence.
  • Larry Kane, Assistant Director for energy and spokemanship.
  • Jim Poinsett, Secretary, for providing the minutes and up-to-date membership lists.
  • Michael Wright and Surabhi Agarwal, for excellent and timely work as Co-Editors of Sidereal Times. Surabhi also redesigned the AAAP website this year.
  • Bill Murray, for expertise and making the Planetarium a viable part of member training.
  • Dave & Jenn Skitt and Gene Ramsey, Observatory Co-chairs, who have upgraded the observatory instrumentation and functions, and helped make public nights successful.
  • David Letcher, Outreach Chair, for championing public and school outreach events.
  • All of the keyholders, for making the observatory public nights successful and fun.

Seeking candidate for Co-Editor of Sidereal Times.  A big thank you goes to Michael Wright, who is stepping down after serving over the past 6 years as co-editor with Surabhi Agarwal of the Sidereal Times, our official monthly newsletter.  Michael was instrumental in developing ST from its old newsletter style into its current weblog format.  We are seeking a member with the “right stuff” to edit, write, and manage contributions as co-editor along with Surabhi going forward.   This is a very important position in AAAP because of its status in the club and internet visibility,.  Please send me a note if interested.

Observe the Mercury transit on May 9 – History in the Making.  All members and public are invited to come to the AAAP Observatory at Washington Crossing Park during the Mercury transit (assuming sky is at least partly clear).  Arrive early in the morning if you want to see the beginning:  first contact ~7:15 AM. The transit occurs through the morning and ends at last contact ~2:40 PM local time.  Telescopes will be fitted with broad-band and H-alpha solar filters for safe observing as Mercury crosses the face of the sun. If we are successful on May 9, the Hastings-Byrne 6” refractor will have taken part in three Mercury transit observations over three centuries, a rare claim that few other telescopes or clubs can make!

We know a great deal about this telescope’s history thanks to research by John Church (see “Optical Designs of Some Famous Refractors” Sky & Telescope, Mar 1982, p. 302-8).  Charles Hastings, physicist and teacher affiliated with Johns Hopkins and Yale, designed and made the doublet lens in 1878-9. During student years in Germany, Hastings attended lectures by Kirchoff and von Helmholtz, which lets us claim a special kind of “six degrees of Kevin Bacon” connection with some of the giants of physics!  In 1880 the telescope was completed by John Byrne of NYC and installed in Charles Rockwell’s observatory in Tarrytown NY.  It is documented that Rockwell took the refractor over the Pacific and observed the Nov. 7, 1881 Mercury transit in Honolulu, in the “Sandwich Islands”.  In the early 1900s the telescope passed to Rutgers Univ, and it was acquired by AAAP in 1968.  On Nov 10, 1973, John Church, Freeman Dyson, and Tullio Regge (IAS) observed and recorded the Mercury transit with this telescope.  A successful observation on May 9, 2016 would make three Mercury transits in three centuries!

Minolta Planetarium

Planetarium Retro – Saturday Morning May 14.  Another AAAP exclusive event will be held at the NJ State museum Planetarium, at 10:30 AM on May 14.  Hosted by staffer and AAAP member Bill Murray, this is a sequel to the night sky refresher sessions held Feb. 13 and 20. At those sessions, several comments were directed towards the remarkable and high-precision, but seldom-used, Minolta MS-10 Star Projector.  It would be interesting, several members noted, to compare the Minolta to the current digital-based sky system which has replaced it.  Some features of the Minolta may actually be superior for displaying star fields and deep sky objects – and here’s our chance to find out.  It’s suggested that you bring a pair of low-power binoculars to see whether you can go beyond naked eye resolution on the dome.

  • May 14 at 10:30 AM at the Planetarium in Trenton (205 W State St.; park at dome level)
  • For Keyholders & members to better understand the celestial sphere deep sky objects
  • Bring low-power binoculars

Star Parties – Cherry Springs and Jersey Starquest.  If you’d like to get away from light pollution with your telescope but wonder where to go and safely observe in public places, here are some opportunities to observe under some of the better skies in the northeast.

There is interest among members to attend this year’s Cherry Springs Star Party on June 2-5.  Cherry Springs State Park in northern PA is a dedicated dark sky site and is astronomer-friendly with numerous 110-V AC electric outlets to power telescope equipment on the observing field. The event is sponsored by the Astronomical Society of Harrisburg, with registration costs $45/60 individual/family.  There is on-site camping and motels within ~15 miles.  Register on-line and let us know if you plan to attend.

AAAP will host the annual Jersey Starquest in Hope NJ on Oct 28-30. The location at the Hope Conference and Renewal Center in northern Jersey (just north of Jenny Jump State Forest) offers a fine observing field with electricity under good skies, with modern bunkhouses, showers, and a lodge with kitchen facilities.  So mark your calendar for Jersey StarQuest 2016.  Registration will be walk-in with a modest pay-on-arrival fee.

New telescope search.  What additional telescope would you like to use at the AAAP Observatory in Washington Crossing State Park?  Thanks to the recent redesign and construction eliminating the south-end roof flap of the building, we can now co-mount a second telescope of any practical size alongside the historic Hastings refractor. Some options were discussed at the March board meeting, where the goal was set to find a high-quality telescope designed primarily for high power planetary and lunar and double star observing.  It should also excel at seeing smaller deep sky objects such as planetary nebulae. We believe this class of telescope would be complementary to existing equipment and best fit the typical night sky conditions here.  Specific suggestions and comments from members on what new telescope you’d like the club to acquire are welcome – please send me a note.

Astrophotography learning sessions.  If you’re thinking about how to begin or to improve skills in astrophotography – either using club equipment or your own – we want to hear about it.  Of course there are many aspects to the topic, including CCD camera and telescope/mount hardware options, image acquisition and camera control techniques, auto-guiding, and calibration and post-processing with software.  So we need to hear from you about what your interests are and whether you would like to get on the learning curve – please comment.

I’ll close with a picture (below) taken locally this winter using an SBIG ST-10XME CCD camera (same type that the club owns) and a 12.5” modified Dall-Kirkham AGO astrograph on a Paramount-MX with guidescope.  It is possible to break through light pollution with today’s astro technology!  See

Horsehead Nebula Credit: Rex Parker

Horsehead Nebula Credit: Rex Parker


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The Cosmic Web – Mysterious Architecture of the Universe

J Richard Gott

J Richard Gott

The Amateur Astronomers Association of Princeton is proud to present J. Richard Gott for a discussion of The Cosmic Web – Mysterious Architecture of the Universe on Tuesday, May 10, 2016 at 7:30 pm in Peyton Hall,
Princeton University.

Professor Gott is noted for his contributions to cosmology and general relativity. He has received the Robert J. Trumpler Award, an Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship, the Astronomical League Award, and Princeton’s President’s Award for Distinguished Teaching. Gott is also the author of the popular book: Time Travel in Einstein’s Universe, which was selected by Booklist as one of four “Editors’ Choice” science books for 2001.

He discovered exact solutions to Einstein’s field equations for the gravitational field around one cosmic string (in 1985) and two moving cosmic strings (in 1991). This second solution has been of particular interest because, if the strings move at nearly the speed of light, time travel to the past can occur. His paper with Li-Xin Li, “Can the Universe Create Itself?” explores the idea of how the laws of physics may permit the universe to be its own mother.

Cosmic WebDrawing on Gott’s own experiences working at the frontiers of science with many of today’s leading cosmologists, The Cosmic Web shows how ambitious telescope surveys such as the Sloan Digital Sky Survey are transforming our understanding of the cosmos, and how the cosmic web holds vital clues to the origins of the universe and the next trillion years.

The Cosmic Web will be on sale (credit cards accepted) after the presentation, and Professor Gott will sign them. Rich Gott is renowned for his entertaining, insightful, expert talks. This will be a night to remember. For additional information write:


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Nominations for Board of Directors

by Bill Murray, Nominations Chair

At the April meeting, the following slate of candidates was approved for the AAAP Board of Directors election at our meeting in May:

Director: Rex Parker
Assistant Director: Larry Kane
Treasurer: Michael Mitrano
Program Chair: Ira Polans
Secretary: James Poinsett

If anyone else would like to submit their name for consideration for one of these positions contact me before the May meeting.

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Minutes of the April 12, 2016 AAAP Meeting

by James Poinsett, Secretary

  • The meeting was called to order by the Director and the lecture for the evening was by Dr. James Green entitled “New Discoveries in the Outer Solar System: Ceres, Pluto and Planet X.”
  • After the lecture, Rex summarized the history of the Hastings-Byrne refractor pointing out that with the May 9th transit of Mercury will be the third century that a Mercury transit was observed with this scope. We will be at the observatory that day. The transit is from 7:15 AM through 2:00 PM.
  • On Saturday May 14th at 10:30 AM in the NJ State planetarium, Bill Murray will present a sequel the April keyholder training using the Minolta MS-10 Star Projector. Bring your binoculars to observe some of the dimmer objects it projects. Volunteers are needed for solar observing after the planetarium session.
  • Rex brought up the space elevator and also “Skyline”, the space elevator documentary. The club will try to set up a viewing of the film.
  • A group of club members are going to the Cherry Springs Star Party on June 2-5. It is a very basic party with camping on site.  There are nearby lodging facilities. There will be a food vendor on site also. If you are planning on going or would like to go let Bill Murray or Rex Parker know, and they will make sure you are in touch with the group.
  • Our star party, StarQuest, will be on Oct 28-30. Once again at the Hope Center in Hope NJ. More details will follow.
  • The nominating committee announce the slate of officers for the coming year that are up for election. All current officers have offered to return. If you are interested in running for office, let Bill Murray know before the May meeting.
  • There will be 150 Boy Scouts and their leaders in Washington Crossing State Park the weekend of April 29th. Extra help will be needed at the observatory that Friday night. Volunteers are also needed for solar viewing the following day and night time viewing that evening. Let David Letcher know if you are able to help out.
  • There is a new polarizing filter in the eyepiece case at the observatory.
  • We are reviving public nights in conjunction with the NJ State Planetarium. They will be held on May 13th and May 27th. Larger crowds than usual are expected at the observatory those nights. Any extra help is always appreciated.
  • Input from members for a second telescope on the mount with the HB refractor is desired. Please express your opinion even if that opinion is that no additional scope is needed!
  • Meeting adjourned at 9:50, 30 members in attendance.
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Minutes of the March 29, 2016 AAAP Board of Directors Meeting

by James Poinsett, Secretary

  • The meeting was called to order by the Director, Rex Parker at 7:00.
  • The entire five member board was present along with the Observatory Chairs and several members.
  • Bill Murray volunteered to be the Nominating Chair for the upcoming election. The slate will be announced at the April meeting with the election to be held at the May meeting.
  • Some additional publicity will be done for Jim Green’s appearance at the April meeting.
  • The May speaker is set and the Program committee is looking for suggestions for next years speakers. Specific speakers or even topics are wanted.
  • The website was reviewed and overall received very well. A suggestion was made to slow down the picture rotation speed on the home page and to increase the size of the next speaker announcement.
  • The topic of attracting younger members was next. Several ideas were discussed. We will put together a list of area high school science teachers and make sure to email them our meeting announcements and perhaps attract them or some of their students.
  • The keyholder refresher at the planetarium went very well. Another is planned for May 14th using the Minolta star projector.
  • There will be training on the Mallincam video camera on April 1st and 8th at the observatory. If there is bad weather, the training will still be held.
  • The Board expressed it’s thanks to Michael Mitrano and crew for the work on the roof and the south end gable.
  • The next topic for discussion was another telescope for the mount with the HB refractor. Rex has suggested a 10-inch Maksutov-Cassegrain he found on Astromart. It is an exceptional scope with many pros and cons. No decision was made except to ask for more ideas from the membership.
  • The new computers and software for the observatory that was approved last year will be purchased and installed. A new monitor for the Mallincam will be installed also.
  • The topic of the club-owned CCD camera was brought up for discussion. The camera has seen very little use. A suggestion was made to sell the current one and buy an easier one to use. More discussion will be held at the next meeting.
  • Possible field trips to Goddard Space Center and the Cherry Springs star party were discussed.
  • Communiversity was April 17th and was a big success.
  • The Board agreed to make a $100 donation to the Washington Crossing Park Association.
  • The meeting was adjourned at 9:00 PM.
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Reusable Launch Vehicle

CRS-8 first stage landing. Taken by remote camera from "Of Course I Still Love You" droneship

CRS-8 first stage landing. Taken by remote camera from “Of Course I Still Love You” droneship

by Prasad Ganti

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket was recently launched from Cape Canaveral. It was a routine launch on a routine mission except for a couple of differences, which are important steps for a brighter future. SpaceX or Space Exploration Technologies, started by Elon Musk, has been one of the earliest successful private sector ventures to routinely launch rockets  to carry cargo to the International Space Station (ISS).

After initial failures, SpaceX mastered the art and science of rocket launches to hurl payloads into space in a very precise and safe manner proving that a private venture apart from NASA can do this complex maneuvering. Wanting to improve the economics of carrying cargo into space, SpaceX made the first stage of the rocket reusable. The first stage of a rocket gives a heavy boost towards the outer confines of Earth’s atmosphere and falls off after exhausting all its fuel. The second stage then takes over and pushes the rocket and its payload into the space. The detached first stage falls into the ocean as debris.

The one-time use of the multiple-stages rockets cause the economics of launches to skyrocket. If somehow the first stage can be reused, the costs of the launch could be reduced significantly. Towards this end, SpaceX wanted to have the first stage return to Earth and land safely so that it could be recovered, refurbished and reused.

SpaceX has made several attempts to make the first stage return and land safely. After a few failures, it was able to make it touch down on land, but not on a floating platform. The recent attempt is the first time that the first stage returned and successfully landed on a platform in the Atlantic Ocean. Of course, there is still more work to be done to make the first stage truly reusable. A great first step which bodes well for the future.

unnamed-24The second major achievement of the mission was in the payload itself. In addition to the routine supplies to ISS, the payload included an inflatable module called BEAM (Bigelow Expandable Activity Module). It is a precursor to the inflatable habitats and structures to be built in space or on other planets like Mars. An inflatable module is lighter than metal, which was used in the construction of ISS. It takes up less space when sent into space. If this module can withstand the rigors of space like vacuum, radiation and micrometeorites, it will herald a new era of construction in space. This experiment too is the result of a private sector initiative by both Bigelow Aerospace and SpaceX performing under contract to NASA.

Given that space flights are being democratized in today’s globalized world, the superpowers do not have the monopoly on technology anymore. Rocket science is very complex and expensive. Escaping the bonds of Earth’s gravity is not easy. The private sector initiatives towards space economics and NASA’s mantra of faster, better and cheaper will greatly help the cause.

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Compiled by David Kaplan, Michael Wright and William Gray

Firefighters forced to backtrack on meteorite fire claim

Firefighters in Maryland backtrack after blaming a meteorite for a brush fire.

Extending the New Horizons mission

“We call this mission to explore the Kuiper Belt (KB) “KEM” — for KB Extended Mission. The centerpiece of the KEM is the close flyby of an ancient Kuiper Belt object (KBO) called 2014 MU69 on Jan 1, 2019.”

A hunt for clues to the universe’s birth

PPPL’s new PTOLEMY Laboratory will help scientists hunt for elusive Big Bang neutrinos that could offer clues to the origins of the universe.

Art meets physics at Princeton Art Museum exhibit

PPPL graduate students get out of the laboratory and into the gallery in a collaboration on the connection between art and physics at the Princeton University Art Museum.

Maria Popova reviews Janna Levin’s ‘Black Hole Blues’

In “Black Hole Blues: And Other Songs From Outer Space,” the astrophysicist and novelist Janna Levin chronicles the decades-long development of LIGO — a quest marked by the highest degree of human intelligence, zest and perseverance.

The Universe in Your Hand’ and ‘Seven Brief Lessons on Physics

Jennifer Ouelette reviews Christophe Galfard’s “The Universe in Your Hand,” and Carlo Rovelli’s “Seven Brief Lessons on Physics.”

Albert Einstein’s wonderful letter of support to Marie Curie

Few things are more disheartening to witness than the bile which small-spirited people of inferior talent often direct at those endowed with genius. And few things are more heartening to witness than the solidarity and support which kindred spirits of goodwill extend to those targeted by such loathsome attacks.

How to Talk to Aliens?

In the Victorian era, a small group of scientists worked on proposals for extraterrestrial communication. Many involved giant mirrors.

A visionary project aims for Alpha Centauri

Silicon Valley scientists and billionaires announce an effort to send probes to explore Alpha Centauri, an interstellar mission that could take decades.

Planets stripped bare by host stars

Astronomers have defined a class of planet that have had their atmospheres stripped away by their host stars.

Lessons from the Retrofit Revolution

From the IDA: Policymakers are under ever-increasing pressure to save energy, reduce costs and lower taxes, all while continuing to make their cities safer and more attractive. Although joining the LED streetlight revolution seems like a great solution, this seemingly good short-term answer often comes with misinformation, creating potential long-term negative effects on the environment and human health.

You could snooze your way through an asteroid belt

Misconception: In an asteroid belt, spaceships have to dodge a fusillade of oncoming rocks.

Actually: If you were in the middle of an asteroid belt, you probably wouldn’t see any asteroids at all.

NASA is facing a climate change countdown

Kennedy Space Center and other NASA facilities near coastlines are facing the prospect of continually rising waters.

Japanese satellite Hitomi: Lost in space?

Dozens of Japanese engineers and scientists are scrambling to save an X-ray satellite – and more than a quarter of a billion dollars of investment – tumbling out of control in space.

Comet 67P presented in silhouette

Perfectly backlit by our star, Comet 67P was photographed in dramatic fashion by the Rosetta spacecraft – 260 million km from Earth.

The first inflatable home being launched into space

NASA’s inflatable space home was launched on 8 April. Take a peek at what it looks like and why it’s so important.

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Maine Astronomy Retreat

Dear AAAP,

We are reaching out to inform you and the members of the Amateur Astronomers Association of Princeton about the Maine Astronomy Retreat at Medomak Retreat Center in Washington, Maine – a vacation for you and your telescope!

Washington, Maine has some of the darkest skies in the Northeast, with a limiting visual magnitude of 6.3 (SQM value: 21.3 MPSAS). This summer, July 24-30, we are hosting our third annual Maine Astronomy Retreat. For six nights you will be able to revel under our expansive dark skies – we will have telescopes on hand and encourage you to bring yours, too. During the day, in addition to engaging lectures and programs by our expert facilitators, you can enjoy the use of our facilities, including a waterfront with canoes, kayaks and sailboats, tennis and basketball courts, and an archery range.

The retreat is led by J. Kelly Beatty, Sky & Telescope’s senior editor; Bruce Berger, director of Amateur Telescope Makers of Boston Research and Imaging Observatory; Greg Mort, renowned artist and life-long amateur astronomer, telescope maker, and astrophotographer; Babak A. Tafreshi, founder of The World at Night or TWAN program and a photographer for National Geographic; and Rod Mollise, contributing editor at Sky & Telescope magazine.

For this star party there’s no need to bring a tent, sleep in a sleeping bag, or eat uninspired food. Medomak has comfortable, private cabins with real beds, hot showers, and electricity, as well as delicious, locally sourced meals prepared on the premises. And it’s all included in your tuition. 

Please see our website,, for more details, and to register.

If you have any questions, please feel free to give us a call at 1-866-MEDOMAK.

Thank you so much for your time and consideration.

Best regards,


Anastasia MacDonald
Outreach Director

Medomak Camp &
Medomak Retreat Center
178 Liberty RD
Washington, Maine 04574

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Beautiful Nighttime Atlas Launch Rockets Cygnus Supply Ship to ISS

by Dr. Ken Kremer

ULA Atlas V rocket carrying Orbital ATK CRS-6 Cygnus cargo spacecraft lifts from Space Launch Complex 41 at 11:05 p.m. on Mar. 22, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. Credit: Ken Kremer/

ULA Atlas V rocket carrying Orbital ATK CRS-6 Cygnus cargo spacecraft lifts off from Space Launch Complex 41 at 11:05 p.m. on Mar. 22, 2016 . Canaveral Air Force Station, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL –  A stunningly beautiful nighttime launch on March 22 mesmerized delighted spectators as the rocket roared off a Florida space coast, launch pad  stocked with over three tons of science and supplies for the multinational crews working aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocketed raced to orbit from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station  carrying an enlarged Cygnus commercial resupply spacecraft on the Orbital ATK CRS-6 mission to the ISS, as I watched from the roof of the world-famous Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) where Saturn V moon rockets and Space Shuttles were assembled for launch.

The venerable Atlas V lifted off right on target at 11:05 p.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 41 into a picturesque moonlit sky. The moon magnificently illuminated the scattered, thin clouds hovering over the seaside launch pad for the hordes of excited folks and families lining the beaches. They were lucky to witness what may be the last launch of a Cygnus from Florida.

After a three-day orbital chase, the Cygnus spacecraft arrived as scheduled  at the station on March 26. Expedition 47 Commander Tim Kopra of NASA and Flight Engineer Tim Peake of ESA (European Space Agency) successfully grappled Cygnus with the space station’s robotic arm and berthed it at the Earth-facing port of the Unity module.

Cygnus was named the S.S. Rick Husband in honor of Col. Rick Husband, the late commander of Space Shuttle Columbia, which was tragically lost with its crew of seven NASA astronauts during re-entry on Feb. 1, 2003.  It was built by Orbital ATK based in Dulles, Virginia.

Inside Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility clean room at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida with Orbital ATK Cygnus cargo spacecraft launched to ISS on Mar. 22, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer

Inside Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility clean room at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida with Orbital ATK Cygnus cargo spacecraft launched to ISS on Mar. 22, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer

The Orbital ATK CRS-6 mission is the firm’s fifth contracted cargo delivery mission with NASA to the space station.  It was loaded with 3513 kg (7700 pounds) of science experiments and hardware, crew supplies, spare parts, gear and station hardware for the orbital laboratory in support over 250 research experiments being conducted on board by the Expedition 47 and 48 crews.  About a quarter of the cargo is devoted to science and research gear including 1713 pounds of science investigations.

Among the research highlights are experiments like Strata-1, which will evaluate how soil on airless bodies like asteroids moves about in microgravity. Gecko Gripper will test adhesives similar those found on geckos’ feet. Meteor will evaluate the chemical composition of meteors entering the Earth’s atmosphere. Safire will purposely set a large fire inside Cygnus after it unberths from the ISS to examine how fires spread in space, and a nanosat deployer mounted externally will deploy over two dozen nanosats also after unberthing.

Watch my Atlas/Cygnus launch video from a remote video camera set at the launch pad.  Credit: Ken Kremer/

Here a cool video prelaunch look at Cygnus and me in the NASA Kennedy Space Center clean room discussing the Meteor experiment by Thaddeus Cesari/

The next cargo launch to the ISS is set for April 8 with a SpaceX Falcon 9/Dragon vehicle.  Learn all about these and more at my outreach lectures on April 9/10 and April 17 listed below.

For complete details about ULA’s Orbital ATK Atlas/Cygnus launch see my recent articles and photos at Universe Today:

Astronomy Outreach by Dr. Ken Kremer

Apr 9/10: “NASA and the Road to Mars Human Spaceflight programs”  and “Curiosity explores Mars” at NEAF (NorthEast Astronomy and Space Forum), 9 AM to 5 PM, Suffern, NY, Rockland Community College and Rockland Astronomy Club –

Apr 17: “NASA and the Road to Mars Human Spaceflight programs”- 1:30 PM at Washington Crossing State Park, Nature Center, Titusville, NJ –

Please contact Ken for more info, science outreach presentations and his space photos. Email:   website:

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